Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Stereolab ‘ Not Music’

Cool. You’ve either got it or you ain’t. Will Young? Not cool. Neil Young? Cool. Dizzee Rascal? Sorry, not cool. Dizzy Gillespie, ice cold. Stereophonics? Well, have a guess. Stereolab? Oh yes, they’re cool alright. From their sound (a mix of 60’s French pop, spy movie soundtracks, motorik beats and lounge music) to their song titles (‘Lo Boob Oscillator’ anyone?), hell, even their sleeve artwork gives you frostbite.

Following the tragic death of one of their number, Mary Hansen (killed by a truck whilst cycling through London in 2002...not cool) the band’s output has slowed a little and ominously the gap between releases has got a little longer. Their last album, ‘Chemical Chords’, came out in 2008 and the following year their manager pretty much signalled the end of the band with the news that they were taking an indefinite ‘hiatus’. So this new release (which appears to have been recorded at the same time as the last album) could well be their last will and testament. If that’s the case it would be a real shame as ‘Not Music’ generally sees the group on fine form. Opening with an archetypal ‘lab track ‘Everybody’s Weird Except Me’ (female harmonies, vintage keyboards, slightly spaced out percussion) it’s clearly business as unusual. Perhaps that’s the problem though? Maybe after 19 years of creating ultra cool soundtracks to films that don’t exist the band feels its work is done? Certainly there’s an incredibly distinctive Stereolab sound which, if you were feeling critical, you could point out was a little samey after a while. Laititia Sadier’s vocal too, with that sub zero French accent that could make The Birdy Song sound cool, is the very model of understatement. But there are still more than enough musical diversions on this album to keep you engaged. Supah Jaianto for example (see what I mean about those song titles?) features a funky mid song break with pounding drums and tight stabs of brass. Elsewhere the epic Silver Sounds (Emperor Machine Mix)...all 10 minutes 21 seconds of it...sets off on a Krautrock highway to heaven using what could well be synths won from the Human League in a late night game of canasta. Here too there are changes of pace/gear though, with little flourishes (it almost goes Latin at one point) that make you sit up and take notice. Retro yet futuristic it’s the sound of a band that still knows how to have fun, albeit with an arched eyebrow.

Fittingly the album ends with Neon Beanbag (Atlas Sound Mix) a driving dreamy drone featuring fractured female vocals punctuated with some wild oscillating background noise...wheeeohhhhahhhheeee. It’s wilfully obtuse. As leftfield as that field to the left of the field on the far left. And, if it really is the last thing that ever comes out of the ‘lab, I can think of no finer epitaph. Cool.

‘Not Music’ will be released into the ether by Drag City on 16th November 2010.

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